State officials this week will again consider shifting the horse racing dates at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to later in the summer to favor the California State Fair, a move the Sonoma fair officials say could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in expected revenue.
The California Horse Racing Board will vote Friday on a proposal to award the state fair the racing days in the fourth week of July starting in 2015, a time that Sonoma County has previously staked out for its own racing schedule.
Under the proposal favoring the state fair, Sonoma County would instead see its horse racing pushed a week deeper in August, after the customary end date of the county fair.
The final week of the state fair overlaps the customary first week of the county fair and both would like to have their state-permitted horse racing days coincide with the fair dates.
The racing board rejected such a proposal for 2014 in December after Sonoma County Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi said there was not enough time to shift fair dates to accommodate the change. Racing board member Steve Beneto, however, vowed to press the change for 2015 and thereafter.
Beneto, a former board member for Cal Expo, the venue that hosts the state fair, argues that the state's largest fair deserves three full weeks of racing time, rather than the two it has enjoyed in recent years. He says there is no reason that Sonoma County can't simply shift its customary dates, usually from the fourth week in July into the second week in August, a week later to accommodate the state fair.
In fact, he said, that would be even better since the Sonoma County Fair would no longer overlap the state fair at all, leaving vendors and potential attendees stretched less thinly.
"I don't see where Santa Rosa is going to get hurt on it," he said. "If I thought they would get hurt, I wouldn't be doing it."
Tesconi, however, has argued vigorously that pushing the county fair dates later in August is out of the question, since the final week of the fair would run afoul of the start of school in several of the county's largest school districts, costing the fair attendance and temporary workers, many of whom are teachers or students.
The means the final week of racing allocated to Sonoma County under Beneto's plan would fall after the fair ended. In previous times when the fairgrounds has run racing outside of the fair dates, revenue fell 50 percent, calling into question whether it would even be worth it to run horses that final week at all, according to Tesconi.
The Sonoma County Fair has acquired some powerful allies in the fight. Assembly members Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, have been pressing state officials, including Board Chairman Chuck Winner and Gov. Jerry Brown, to oppose Beneto's plan, according to staff.
Both the California Thoroughbred Trainers Association and Thoroughbred Owners of California have come out against the plan, saying they would prefer to spend the contested week in Sonoma County.
Not only are the purses typically better, but the climate, facilities and track are all superior in Sonoma County, said Alan Balch, executive director of the Thoroughbred Trainers Association.
Sonoma has a turf track, which many owners and trainers prefer, he said, while Cal Expo has only a dirt track. The stalls for horses and quarters for grooms are nicer in Sonoma, he said, and the Cal Expo facilities have had some recent problems, including run-ins with the fire marshal over electrical outlets and fire escapes.